The Big Board of Money
Lauren and I have our money organized on a white board which has been labeled our “Big Board of Money”. I highly recommend some sort of system like this where you track your expenses and assets, especially if you are working with a spouse or significant other.
You’ll notice a lot of posts about what WE do, but I’m definitely not saying any of these “systems” are for everyone. There are obviously hundreds of smart budget organization strategies to use! Believe me, I’m not on my high horse here, just trying to give you an idea of what has worked for us. Having said this, if I eventually saw someone else’s Big Board of Money, it would instantly make my day.
Due to our recent move about 4 months ago, our spending habits have changed, so we are starting out with weekly check-ins to report our weekly spending. When we become a little bit more stabilized in the new house in the coming months, I suspect we’ll move to a monthly update system. In a way, we are micromanaging ourselves since our board system is about 4 months old (and still growing strong!). It’s safe to say we enjoy updating it, and are excited to report when our spending comes in under budget. Let’s go through the sections briefly, and maybe it will spark interest for you to start a similar system to get yourself in a system that works.
When we talked about our budget system, we split it into Monthly Recurring charges and Free Spend. This running spend is only for our free spend, because we have a lot of control over this piece and not necessarily the monthly spend piece. Initially, we set goals of free spending $225 each per week but we’ve already started to decrease that number here. What you see on the board is each of our last 4 weeks of spending. This includes EVERYTHING that’s not our mortgage/utilities/or any subscription service (that we included in our monthly spend). It includes personal property tax bills, oil changes, groceries, gas, and anything else we choose to buy on a weekly basis. I find this to be a pretty non-restrictive way of cutting back, given that there are no categories telling us we need to spend X on groceries, or Y on eating out, etc. Who the hell am I to tell the “future me” how much booze I can buy with my allotted money?! We can spend and buy whatever the hell our heart desires, with the overall number in mind. I usually spend about $75 of my budget on gas and groceries per week, so beyond that I can choose to eat out once or twice, buy a gadget online, or go buy a bottle of whiskey at the store. No sense in getting too granular on the board….spending is spending (money we don’t ever get back).
LAST 4 WEEK SPENDING:
This is a summation of the running spend. We are extremely lucky to be able to have such a high number here. Our goal started out at a much too generous $1800, which we determined shortly after was WAY too high for what we were actually spending. Since then we’ve lowered it to $1700, and now $1500. This is a great way to work your free spending down. Chances are if you are currently living like Kanye West, and set out to put your budget at $1400 (for a couple), you’d miss the mark every week and get really fucking pissed that you’re on a budget in the first place. Gradually work your way to your end goal. I don’t feel deprived at all, and recognize people have MUCH more strict budgets than we do. We have a house full of stuff and don’t need a single thing more. So we enjoy ourselves week in and week out, and coming in under budget provides us an emotional lift knowing we are now able to pay off more of the student loan or more into the investment account. Also, keep in mind that you’re bound to go over on weeks that you take a vacation or something of that sort. The fact that it rolls up to a 4 week number gives you time to beat your number for the other 3 weeks and still “make” your monthly spending goal.
The amount of money in our taxable dividend growth stock portfolio. We both have 401ks and IRAs in separate accounts. My employer has a great 401k match system that gives me a 6% match with an 8% employee contribution, so that’s exactly what I contribute. I talk more about that in this article. It’s fun to know that if I come in $125 under my budgeted spend, that it goes directly into a different, more positive number on the board.
STUDENT LOAN BALANCE:
This is Lauren’s student loan balance. She said that she preferred to keep the original number (from when we started keeping the board) and the “last number” so she could see progress to help with motivation. She knows that every dollar she spends less than her budget, she can see the progress in either an extra student loan payment or a contribution to our investment portfolio (she does a little of both with her extra money). I’ve heard a lot of people ignore their debt, and continue to pay the minimum balance just to keep the bank off their backs. I believe it’s extremely important to recognize the debt, keep it in the forefront of your budget, and stay motivated to get rid of it as soon as possible. If we think about paying off your debt like an investment, you are getting a guaranteed return in the form of whatever your interest rate is.
Our passive dividend income for our taxable investment account. It looks a little light at the moment since I have recently transitioned to this strategy a month or so ago. I put the (~$130 per month) addition in to keep myself motivated for the couple months it takes my payments to start rolling in. I should see higher, more regular numbers starting in November and especially December. At that point, I’ll have my expected $130 per month and growing to look forward to in 2016.
This is just the way we track our money and I’m sure there are hundreds of other effective ways. You have to choose what works for you. We have an interesting combination of information and motivation on ours, designed in a way to keep us striving to make our financial lives better on a monthly basis. It’s important to note that the ONLY important numbers on here are related to what we spend. Our income is fairly consistent as we both have 9-5 jobs, so if we don’t limit our spending, none of these numbers will change at all. If you have a different type of job, where your income is different for given months, I’d suggest adding a section for that on your “board”.
Obviously, if you are single, you are in control of your own money. I believe it’s more important for couples like us to get on the same page. By reporting in each week and having our board visible throughout the week, without any discussion on WHAT we spend our money on, we both know we are working towards the same goal, without ever having to fight about it. It’s all a team effort and we know if we keep a plan intact and continue posting good numbers, pretty soon it will be a well oiled machine on its way to granting us financial freedom.
What sort of budget aspects do you like to track? Any ideas for another section we can fit onto our board?